By Erica Naone
Latin American members of the activist hacker group Anonymous called off a planned November 5 plan to expose people associated with the Zetas, Mexico's most violent drug cartel, according to the group's blog.
In a post written in Spanish on the group's Latin American blog, the members said they had called off the action after the Zetas met a demand to release a kidnapped group member, and that: "We can say that, while bruised, he is alive and well."
The hacker group said the person was freed with a note warning that if information were released, the cartel would make the kidnapped member's family suffer, and kill 10 people for each exposed name.
Anonymous members previously threatened by video to release names and addresses of taxi drivers, journalists and police officers who they said acted as "loyal servants" to the cartel to see if that would prompt arrests.
They said they were "fed up" with the cartel's actions, particularly the alleged kidnapping. For much of the week, people claiming to be Anonymous members have gone back and forth saying the hacker action was canceled or would go ahead.
Anonymous, a loosely knit group that has attacked financial and government websites around the world, had in September claimed responsibility for orchestrating the shutdown of several Mexican government ministries, but did not give a reason for that action.
Barrett Brown, a Texas hacker who posted details about the planned action, said via his Twitter account: "I will be continuing the fight against the cartels."
Brown said via a post on Pastebin he would avoid revealing names that would trigger the ire of the Zetas but still intended to send information to the German newspaper Der Spiegel for confirmation.
"In the meanwhile, I will be going after other cartels with the assistance of those who have come forward with new information and offers of assistance," he said
Revenge of the Nerds
The guy in the YouTube video is wearing a red tie and a creepy, grinning Guy Fawkes mask. You'd never be able to identify who's behind the mask. Which is lucky for the guy.
"Release him," Guy Fawkes says. "If anything happens to him you will always remember … Nov. 5. … We do not forgive. We do not forget. Wait and see."
Amazingly, it's an attempt to intimidate the intimidators, the Zetas, Mexico's most ruthless crime syndicate.
The guy in the YouTube video is a member of the loose-knit Internet vigilante collective known as Anonymous. They're highly skilled computer hackers, free-range cyberbullies, pranksters and anarchists who have attacked corporate and government websites and generally wreaked Internet havoc against those they consider wrongdoers.
The Zetas supposedly have kidnapped one of Anonymous's hacker/members who had denounced the Mexican government for being in cahoots with the drug lords.
Release our geek, Anonymous threatened, or the group will publish online the names of government officials, police officers, journalists and others who, the group says, collaborate with the Zetas. Given Anonymous' tech-savvy history of coordinated attacks on corporate and government websites, this probably isn't a bluff.
It would seem the hackers have some guts, confronting the Mexican bad guys, even from behind a Guy Fawkes mask.
The Zetas don't play nice. They've tortured and executed rivals and posted videos of their grisly handiwork. They've cowed journalists and government officials with violence.
But they've haven't faced an enemy like Anonymous, which takes no cyberprisoners.
"Computer security specialists are afraid to challenge Anonymous," one security exec told The Wall Street Journal. "No one is that confident in their own systems."
Who better to confront shadowy crime lords than an equally shadowy Internet posse?
Scott Stewart of the global security consulting firm Stratfor says Anonymous's challenge to the crime cartel could yield huge benefits in Mexico beyond this case.
"If Anonymous is perceived as a safe way to pass information pertaining to cartel activities, we may see people from all over the country begin to share intelligence," he wrote. "Such human intelligence could very well prove to be far more damaging to the cartels than any information Anonymous activists can dredge up electronically."
Count us skeptical. There's some question about whether there is an actual kidnap victim connected to Anonymous and held by the Zetas. There's some question about whether Anonymous will carry out its threat. And before anyone gets too dazzled by the hackers in the masks, know that they've also threatened to attack the Web operations of various legitimate institutions, including Facebook, on Nov. 5.
That would be today, Guy Fawkes Day. Hold onto your laptop.
Contradictions mount in Anonymous threat to Zetas
Los Angeles Times
A story that at first seemed to point ominously to a dangerous new development in Mexico's drug war was spiraling into confusion Friday as social-media users claiming ties to the hackers group Anonymous announced -- and then retracted -- a threat against the Zetas cartel in Mexico.
Some Twitter users who claim membership in the secretive hackers collective said they would be carrying out the attack against the ultra-violent Zetas by revealing the identities of the cartel's associates and businesses starting Saturday.
Others, however, were reporting that the attack was canceled and warned that the operation, dubbed #OpCartel, would put innocent lives at risk.
Adding to the confusion, the reason for the supposed cancellation of the attack shifted throughout the day. Did the Zetas release the Anonymous member allegedly kidnapped in Mexico, an abduction that purportedly inspired the hackers' threat? Or did Anonymous receive threats itself and cancel the operation for the safety of its members and their families?
In the dual worlds of shadowy cartels and shadowy hackers, there is almost no way of knowing, and no way of verifying such claims.
Anyone can claim membership of the leaderless hackers group. And anyone, in theory, can start a hash-tag on Twitter and call it an "operation" -- even before a single action is taken.
The Anonymous threat, if carried out, would raise the stakes considerably in Mexico's drug war. A public list of names and businesses allegedly tied to the Zetas probably would spark an immediate burst of violence wherever the Zetas operate as rivals or authorities sought weaken or even eliminate the fearsome cartel through force.
Yet warning signals on the legitimacy of the #OpCartel threat appeared early on but were largely ignored by U.S. and Mexican news media that chose to report it.
The original video (in Spanish) makes reference to a supposed kidnapping of an Anonymous associate, but it did not offer any proof that would permit reporters to independently verify it. Neither has the alleged kidnapping been confirmed by authorities in Veracruz state.
Several calls to the Veracruz state government Friday were not returned.
The video also does not appear similar to previous Anonymous announcements reportedly made in Veracruz, which make specific references to local politicians and news outlets. In contrast, the new video threat against the Zetas uses vague language and curiously praises "honest authorities like the army and marines."
If #OpCartel does not materialize, the buzz over the threat would raise thorny questions about mainstream media coverage of such threats and the amplification of random or unfounded claims made on YouTube and Twitter.
Several prominent Anonymous Twitter accounts, including AnonHispano and IberoAnon, have denied involvement and appear to be scrambling to police themselves, arguing to rogue Anonymous hackers now that the operation is dangerous and should not be carried out.
Yet others, like AnonymouSabu, say #OpCartel is still alive. One tweet said: "I don't speak for anonymous the same way you don't -- we are two individuals. Those who want to work on the op can, and will."